The four Democratic Party candidates for the 2nd Suffolk District state senate seat answered questions about COVID, housing, mental health, and more, during an online JP Progressives forum on May 19.
The four candidates Miniard Culpepper, state Rep. Nika Elugardo (D-15th Suffolk), Liz Miranda (D-5th Suffolk), and Dianne Wilkerson will face each other in the primary election on September 6, and the winner will advance to the general election on November 8.
Moderated by WGBH's Saraya Wintersmith and Yawu Miller from the Baystate Banner, the forum consisted of candidates providing opening statements with their top-three priorities, a mix of in-depth questions and rapid-fire questions, followed by closing statements. Below is a summary of each candidate’s opening statement, some of their responses to in-depth questions, and their closing statements.
Below is a full recording of the forum.
Candidate Opening Statements:
In Wilkerson’s opening statement she spoke about the newly drawn 2nd Suffolk district and how it's changed since COVID. She emphasized that Black and Latino communities have “lost big” during the pandemic. “We need to repair, reverse, rebuild,” she said.
Wilkerson did not explicitly list her top three priorities.
“My agenda since day one has been centered on equity and justice,” said Miranda.
Miranda spoke about being the daughter of a teen immigrant mom from Cabo Verde and a Black immigrant father who was incarcerated and later deported when she was 18. After she lost a brother to gun violence in 2017, she said it was a “catalyst” for her to run for office as a state representative.
She said her top three priorities are “centering health equity, ensuring our communities are safe and healthy with environmental justice, and… to focus on housing, not only homeownership but also ensuring that the housing stock we have is safe and equitable for all.”
Elugardo, a resident of Jamaica Plain, said she is a “leader that builds leaders.” Elugardo said her constituents are her teachers.
She stated her top three priorities as housing and ecological justice, economic and entrepreneurial opportunity for all, and equitable education for all. She adds that “race equity is a lens through which we’re looking at all of these policies.”
Culpepper said his work as a lawyer “has defined [his] entire life."
Culpepper spoke about his previous experiences as a New England regional counsel at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Culpepper also serves as Senior Pastor at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, which his grandfather founded and built.
He spoke about his work during COVID, saying he “fed [his] community in the tough times of the pandemic and led efforts to get everyone vaccinated.”
His top three priorities are housing, education justice, and the environment.
Helping Businesses Bounce Back from Pandemic
Candidates were asked about the balance between the role of elected leaders in addressing the immediate needs of constituents, versus the importance of focusing on impacting larger structural issues, specifically about how they will help constituents and small businesses bounce back from the pandemic.
Wilkerson said that “the structural issues are the constituents’ issues,” touching upon the intersectionality of immediate needs and large systemic issues. Wilkerson hopes to work with both constituents and local groups to understand what the issues are and how people feel about these issues.
She added that, “Our recovery and our Black businesses are critical,” she said when discussing the impact of COVID. She also referenced work she has done to aid Black businesses during the pandemic.
Miranda said that constituents should not have to choose between candidates that hold one particular strength but rather be able to choose a candidate who holds multiple strengths. She believes she fits this description as a candidate.
She references her experiences leading the fifth Suffolk both on a grassroots level and in the statehouse.
“...as a leader, it is both a privilege and a responsibility,” she said. She adds that engaging the community may be exhausting but is something that should be continued.
Elugardo stressed the importance of working in teams, working systemically, and relying on the leadership in the community. She spoke about her experience bringing community members into the leadership of various bills she has passed.
She said, “This is the way we work. We organize, we energize, and we amplify your voice. We’ll continue to do that throughout the district.”
Culpepper said there needs to be an assessment between institutions and structures that are causing the problems for members of the district.
He spoke about seeing members of his community during COVID not getting tested and PPE, so he worked with COVID-19 Clergy Committee—a committee he started—to provide free masks to churches and their visitors in the community.
Mass and Cass
Candidates were asked about the issues of homelessness and substance abuse, especially at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard. The candidates were asked what they see the state’s role in this issue, and what strategies can the state pursue to make sure the burden for caring for vulnerable people is shared more evenly.
Miranda said the issue at Mass and Cass includes not only homelessness, but mental illness, addiction, and people returning back to society from incarceration without places to go.
She said she has been active in the Mass and Cass Taskforce, where she has been focused on creating low threshold housing to make sure people have places to go while in recovery from addiction. Miranda added that she supports decriminalizing drugs.
Elugardo said she has grown up with “eviction and addition,” having moved 14 times as a child, moving more than 25 times with her husband, and living in six of the seven sections of the state senate district as a result of housing insecurity.
Elugardo spoke about the importance of actually being out on the streets, talking with business owners, and hearing from people who have substance use problems, and asking about their needs, and how they can be helped.
Culpepper thinks it is important to look at what caused the issues at Mass and Cass to occur, as well as look at what other states have done to address similar issues.
He said, “We go there as faith-based leaders on a weekly basis and we meet them where they are.”
He thinks that once the state works to meet people at Mass and Cass “where they are,” such as providing accessible resources or housing in the area, “then we’ll really begin to deal with the issue,” he said.
Wilkerson believes Mass and Cass is a “mess” at the state level. She spoke about how this issue impacts families and neighbors in the area.
She emphasized that the state needs to be held accountable and there needs to be a safe place created for families.
Candidates about their priorities to address the housing crisis, be it in terms of rent control/stabilization or homeownership, and how to prevent further displacement of residents in the district.
Miranda supports rent stabilization and ensuring that rent, as well as houses, are affordable. “For me, it’s important that we think about everyone,” she said. Miranda also said “gentrification has put a chokehold on our communities.”
Elugardo said it’s important to look at existing bills and see how they work in four key areas: tenant protection, generating revenue, supply, and expanding the conception of public housing to build generational wealth.
“I have dedicated my entire life to fighting housing injustice,” he said. He discussed the importance of ending bias and redlining in the housing market. He also believes in making “capital more accessible to those who have been shut out of the housing market."
“When we talk about housing being our issue it's really money being our issue,” she said. She believes that the focus needs to be on income. In other words, “putting money directly in people’s pockets so they can address the issue of housing.”
Possible State Takeover of Boston Public Schools
Candidates were asked about the issue of the state’s potential takeover of the Boston Public Schools. And if opposed, what are they doing right now to help prevent the state from putting the Boston Public Schools into receivership. If they are supportive of the takeover, how do they propose addressing the crisis facing the city’s school system?
He spoke about his experience raising two sons in Boston and believes everyone deserves a quality education. “I am 100% opposed to receivership in the city of Boston,” he said, referencing instances of receivership around the state and its negative impact.
Wilkerson is against receivership and believes that the state has not done well with receivership in the past. “Why anyone would think that this administration would be the right place to take over a school system that is a majority children of color… makes no sense to me,” she said.
Miranda believes receivership is anti-democratic and “denies Black and Brown families and parents participation…” she said. She added that the state does not understand urban or gateway cities.
She believes that receivership should be banned and that it does not work in any state. She spoke about bringing community voices from the district into “the halls of power” while also using the law, as a way to protect districts, she said.
Wellness and Mental Health Challenges
Candidates were asked about their priorities and what specific policies they would pursue.
She plans to center health equity in her plans for the district, especially after COVID. Miranda also spoke about providing “culturally competent care.” She wants to create more programs and mental health resources for communities across the district.
Elugardo spoke about this issue personally, as she has a sister who is bipolar. She said, “When I speak, I speak authentically, not only from my district experience but from my personal experience.” She believes in creating sufficient funding for behavioral health in every school.
Culpepper spoke to seeing people with mental health issues coming into his church often. He discussed various church initiatives that refer people in his church to different mental health facilities.
Wilkerson spoke about the current policy she petitioned for after COVID, such as working with the New England Medical Association to create a comprehensive mental health program to provide mental health assistance in places people visit often, such as schools and churches.
Candidate Specific Questions
Q for Elugardo from Wintersmith: You've on occasion taken strong stands against House and Senate leadership. How effective do you think you would be at getting things done in the Senate—a body where legislation is controlled by people in leadership positions?
Elugardo: I’ve developed a reputation in the House and in the Senate… as being an honest straight shooter of integrity who speaks to you before I go to anyone public.
Question for Culpepper from Miller: You're the only candidate in this race who hasn't yet held elected office. What would you say to voters who question your qualifications against those of the other three candidates?
Culpepper: “I come to this with a new voice, new leadership,” he said. He views his position of never holding elected office as an advantage. He said, “I am un-bought and un-bossed.”
Question for Wilkerson from Wintersmith: Many would say you’re pleading guilty to public corruption charges breached public trust. How are you planning to restore can you restore that public trust with the people in the 2nd Suffolk District?
Wilkerson: Wilkerson is not worried about the public’s trust in her. She said, “Nobody is asking me on the street, day to day about that.” She adds, “I think how you restore [trust] is you just live, you work.” She said she has no secrets. “My record is on the table.”
Question for Miranda from Miller: You've in the past had social media posts that have used insensitive language. How would you respond to criticism of these statements?
Miranda: “I believe in grace and redemption for all people,” she said. She adds that many people in this community deserve a second chance and it’s important to lead with love “not just on Beacon Hill.”
Candidate Closing Statements
He believes he has the lived experienced, leadership, and commitment to be a state senator for the district. “I am the housing candidate and I will be the housing senator,” he said.
Wilkerson spoke about recent national events that put women’s rights, voting rights, and gay marriage at stake.
She said she has the record of working through controversial, tough issues and delivering, and representing a district that is as diverse as the district.
“This race I believe is about the people,” she said. “I’ll be focused on you, your family, and the things that keep you up at night, because this is about our community and our city, and this is our fight.”
“This district, just like me, is not defined by our suffering, we’re defined by our victories.” She wants economic opportunity and housing justice, referring to these as “racial issues we need to take on.”